I'm shortly about to sneakily post last year's list, backdated to last December. I never got round to it. But to make up for that, here's this year's list of my favourite new music from 2006. In case you want to track any of this down, links open in Amazon.co.uk, Boomkat.com or the next best alternative.
Perhaps this is about "trying to contain sheer chaos in little patches of consoling order", as Paul Morley would have it. And as Matt notes, the Last FM-generated list is only partly a true reflection of your feeling for music - a "ghost-written musical memoir", in his good phrase. So I prefer to present a curated list of new music I value, rather than music I've simply played a lot.
However, if you want to skip the lists and head straight for some hot video action, then here's my selection of YouTube discoveries this year. Otherwise, here's my picks for '06 (see also 2004, 2003, 2002). Happy New Year!
Acid Mothers Temple and the Cosmic Inferno: Starless and Bible Black Sabbath
Adrian Klumpes: Be Still
Aidan Baker: The Sea Swells A Bit...
Aki Tsuyuko: Hokane
Ammon Contact: With Voices
Battles: EP C/B
Beirut: Gulag Orkestar
Bill Frisell, Ron Carter, Paul Motian
BJ Nilsen - Chris Watson: Storm
Black Ox Orkestar: Nisht Azoy
Bonnie 'Prince' Billy: The Letting Go
Boxhead Ensemble: Nocturnes
Calexico: Garden Ruin
Cassandra Wilson: Thunderbird
Cat Power: The Greatest
Colleen et Les Boites à Musique
Conjoint: A Few Empty Chairs
CSS: Cansei De Ser Sexy
Danielsson, Dell, Landgren: Salzau Music On The Water
Four Tet: Remixes
Fovea Hex: Neither Speak Nor Remain Silent
Fovea Hex: Bloom
François Couturier: Nostalgia - Song For Tarkovsky
Geir Jenssen: Cho Oyu 8201m: Field Recordings From Tibet
Geoff Mullen: Thrtysxtrllnmfstns
Hisato Higuchi: Dialogue
In The Country: Losing Stones, Collecting Bones
Jan Jelinek: Tierbeobachtunger
Joanna Newsom: Ys
John Zorn: At The Mountains Of Madness
Jolie Holland: Springtime Can Kill You
Juana Molina: Son
Junior Boys: So This Is Goodbye
Julien Neto: Le Fumeur De Ciel
Keith Jarrett: The Carnegie Hall Concert
Kieran Hebden & Steve Reid: The Exchange Session Vol. 1 & 2
Loose Fur: Born Again In The USA
Madlib: The Beat Konducta Vol. 1-2
Magnolia Electric Company: Fading Trails
Moha!: Raus aus Stavanger
Nick Cave & Warren Ellis: The Proposition
One Second Bridge: One Second Bridge
Ornette Coleman: Sound Grammar
Pan American: For Waiting, For Chasing
PG Six: Music From The Sherman Box Series And Other Works
Psapp: The Only Thing I Ever Wanted
Richard Jäverling: Two Times Five Lullaby
Robert Horton: Dirt Speak
Ryan Teague: Coins & Crosses
Stereolab: Fab Four Suture
Steve Coleman & Five Elements: Weaving Symbolics
Sufjan Stevens: The Avalanche
Sun City Girls: Static From The Outside Set
Sunburned Hand Of The Man: Complexion
Susanna And The Magical Orchestra: Melody Mountain
Susumu Yokota: Wonder Waltz
Taylor Deupree: Northern
The Catholics: Gondola
The Cracow Klezmer Band/John Zorn: Book Of Angels Vol. 05: Balan
The Gentleman Losers: The Gentleman Losers
The Jamie Saft Trio: Trouble: The Jamie Saft Trio Plays Bob Dylan
The Mars Volta: Amputechture
The Necks: Chemist
The North Sea & Rameses III: Night Of The Ankou
Thomas Strønen: Pohlitz
Tirath Singh Nirmala: Bluster, Cragg, & Awe
Tobias Froberg: Somewhere In The City
Tom Verlaine: Around / Songs And Other Things
Tom Waits: Orphans
Tortoise: A Lazarus Taxon
Triosk: The Headlight Serenade
TV On The Radio: Return To Cookie Mountain
With Throats As Fine As Needles
Yo La Tengo: I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass
Type Records Primer Vol.1
A Raga For Peter Walker
Rip It Up And Start Again: Post Punk 1978-1984
Lo Compilation STR-12: Mixed by Susumu Yokota
Art of Field Recording
Four Tet - DJ Kicks
Sonoro: Resonance For Sleeping And Eating By
Neil Young: Live At The Fillmore East 1970
Miles Davis: The Cellar Door Sessions 1970
Robert Fripp: Exposure
Brian Eno/David Byrne: My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts
Jean Claude Vannier: L'Enfant Assasin des Mouches
In the absence of a more qualitative way of discerning this i.e. my memory, I can use LastFM to see my most frequently played tracks. Lloyd Swanton owns the top 10 (all the tracks off The Necks and The Catholics albums, basically), and the other tracks drawn essentially from Cat Power's The Greatest and catching up on last year's Sun Kil Moon album Tiny Cities. Older favourites apparently include Eno's Julie With ..., Miles' Flamenco Sketches, Bonnie Prince Billy's Wolf Among Wolves, Caetano Veloso's Alfómega, John Surman's Edges of Illusion, and John Zorn's awe-inspiring Kol Nidre. Sadly, no real new pop songs this year. Though my most-listened to artist was Stereolab and I loved Susanna and the Magic Orchestra's cover of Kiss's 'Crazy Crazy Crazy Crazy Nights'. Do they count? (No; Ed.) OK, then I'll have to plump for Sao Paulo saucepots CSS, with 'Let's Make Love and Listen To Death From Above' or 'Alalala'.
Aidan Baker; Beirut; Bonnie 'Prince' Billy; Boxhead Ensemble; Clogs; Colleen et Les Boites à Musique; Four Tet; Joanna Newsom; John Zorn/Electric Masada; Juana Molina; Nick Cave & Warren Ellis; Pan American; PG Six; Psapp; Sickoakes; Susanna And The Magical Orchestra; Susumu Yokota; Svalastog; The Catholics; The Cracow Klezmer Band/John Zorn; The Necks; The North Sea & Rameses III; Tom Waits; Tortoise [NB: Eno/Byrne's My Life ... is of course an unimpeachable classic, but the reissue didn't add anything at all. In the same vein, from the same era, the reissue of a special edition of Robert Fripp's Exposure is much better value.]
Nick Cave & Warren Ellis's soundtrack for The Proposition was probably the best integration of sound design and great music I'd heard in a movie all year. C might add that another Aussie movie, the excellent 'Little Fish', is worth a mention for use of 'Chisel. And the sound in Michael Mann films is generally almost as good as the vision, and Miami Vice was no exception. Cracking film; great sound design, including getting all actors to mumble such that their words are inaudible and therefore become part of the overall mix rather than dialogue in its own right. Heh.
Aside from gigs by mates, the only thing worth mentioning is the John Zorn tribute to Derek Bailey at the Barbican. That was loud, confusing, disjointed and engaging in equal measure, mainly remembered for the sight - and sound - of a screaming Mike Patton being hoisted atop Milford Graves' shoulders and being carried around the stage in a tumultuous finale. In terms of sound/video art, Paul Schütze's music was used well in a rather lovely Isaac Julian installation, 'True North', at the Victoria Miro Gallery. And the Christian Marclay piece 'Video Quartet', which is a recent addition to the Tate Modern in London and quite the most amazing piece of sound/video art I've seen in years. (A mention for that here.)
Boomkat.com reigns supreme. Their weekly newsletter is my primary method - alongside the recommendations of friends - of finding out about new music. Recommendations systems my arse. All you need, as ever, is a smart record shop. In that sense, special mention should also go to London's Sounds of the Universe. But Boomkat win overall, not least due to their curation skills, but also the user experience of their site/shop, which now includes a fledgling but superbly done mp3 download service.
I almost dropped this category as it's always the same people (Norway's Rune Grammofon; Germany's ECM; New York's Tzadik etc.) But worth noting the work of the Seattle-based Sublime Frequencies label; particularly their superb compilations of pop music and field recording from particular 'non-Western' places: Burma, Sumatra, Nepal, Mali, Syria etc. I've enjoyed their spooky Night Recordings from Bali, of which they say "Field recordings from central Bali at night, with mood, magic and all the mystery this great island can supply. Several styles of Gamelan music are present along with sounds of the midnight forests and crossroads. Supernatural sound from the Balinese interior!" and also Streets of Lhasa, which ”lifts us to the high plateau of Tibet where anonymous street balladeers sell folk songs for a living and ghostly voices drift in an ambience of time forgotten. This ornamental carnival of sound was recorded by Zhang Jian (of the Beijing-based sound collective “fm3”) on the streets of Lhasa, ZhaDa and Shigatse in August 2003."
I wrote a couple of things about music and place this year, with respect to last year's greats, Ry Cooder's Chávez Ravine and Winter & Winter's Metropolis Shanghai. I also hugely enjoyed Ruy Castro's breathless and partisan descriptions of the various musics of Rio de Janeiro.
Graphical scores - I note Russell recently mentioned a Stockhausen classic - featured in my Aula talk about media movements. And after years of suggesting its importance, it was good to see cover art emerging in iTunes. And there was the Buddha Machine, which I've already mentioned.
But in terms of visual accompaniment to music, this was really the year when we all figured YouTube is not actually about user-generated content at all; but essentially about user-uploaded content from years of professionally produced and performed media, and especially music clips. Long lost live performances, sections from films no longer available, music promos too creaky even for VH1; they're all there. I've lost hours in YouTube this year, joyously clicking through music performances, staged and impromptu. Robert Lloyd wrote a fantastic article about this - "One click leads to another: the YouTube experience is half treasure hunt, half trip down the rabbit hole" - noting YouTube's particular facility for music:
"Once I depended on the occasional largesse of well-connected, tape-trading friends to fuel this small obsession. But YouTube is like having that friend a thousand times over, always available. The material comes from all over the world, and from many sources: from television or stripped from (not always) out-of-print commercial tapes or DVDs; from "liberated" unofficial, never-for-broadcast outtakes or rehearsal footage; from concerts captured by the posters themselves on digital cameras or cellphones."
"In recent days I've seen Ella Fitzgerald in 1957, at her peak, singing "Angel Eyes" in Amsterdam; the Penguin Cafe Orchestra on Britain's "South Bank Show"; Bob Dylan sound-checking for his 1984 "Letterman" appearance backed by members of the Plugz; Fela Kuti jamming with Ian Anderson and Jack Bruce on German TV in 1983; the Stooges in 1970; Funkadelic in 1979; Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn singing "Easy Loving"; the prelapsarian Mothers of Invention performing "King Kong"; pre-paralyzed Robert Wyatt in the Soft Machine; the KLF on "Top of the Pops" with Tammy Wynette; Liberace playing "Flight of the Bumblebee"; Eddie Cochran playing "Summertime Blues"; the Dada-pop Bonzo Dog Band, in their '60s prime and on a reunion tour last month; cerebral bluesman John Fahey live in 1978; Tom Waits on "Fernwood 2Nite"; the Incredible String Band at Woodstock; footage of Tom Verlaine teaching Richard Hell how to play "Venus" when Hell was still the bass player in Television; a fierce PJ Harvey at some unnamed pop festival; the Lou Reed/John Cale/Nico semi-reunion from Le Bataclan in Paris in 1972; John Zorn's Naked City (with Bill Frisell and Fred Frith), live in New York in 1992; Yoko Ono dolphin-chirping "Don't Worry, Kyoko" at the 2005 Arthurfest at Barnsdall Park; Ornette Coleman on Italian television in 1974; Malian guitarist Boubacar Traoré, Algerian rai singer Khaled, Argentine accordionist Chango Spasiuk, Yo La Tengo, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the Delgados and a whole lot of French pop, from Charles Trenet to Françoiz Breut."
That's what Lloyd found, and a fine list it is too. I'm about to track a few of those down, while they're there. (He's right to gloomily point out that this feast probably won't last for long.) But here's a selection of my favourite YouTube clips I've enjoyed this year. And this is where it gets properly nostalgic. So look away now, neophiles ... (Tip: RSS readers will have to visit the site to see the videos. If you're finding the videos a bit jerky, as I've embedded quite a few here, click the YouTube logo on the video itself and watch it there.)
Skip James - Devil Got My Woman
Ah this is like watching ghosts. These are people I've only ever seen in photographs. Particularly ghostly when Skip James is around. What a voice. And yes that's Howlin' Wolf standing and watching, to the right, as the camera pans out.
And here's Mr. Wolf himself. How amazing to see him perform live?! Never seen it before. And what a performance. He's possessed, certainly.
King Crimson - Larks' Tongue in Aspic
Nearly chose this early 80s King Crimson promo for 'Sleepless'. All very faux-Dada and stagey. The kind of thing which is spoofed mercilessly these days - probably quite rightly. I'd like to see Vic and Bob perform it. Anyway, Belew's good in it. But it has to be this clip of King Crimson from German TV (Crikey, German TV filmed some great stuff in those days), mainly due to the great Jamie Muir wandering aroundin a bearskin, seeing the entire stage as some kind of giant percussion instrument. Top early 70s SFX too.
David Bowie - Stay
Belew does feature - and how - on this great clip of Bowie in '78. Some incredibly bad clothing choices there - David, how could you? - but some fabulous sorcery from Belew and a rock-solid rhythm section. Class.
Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band - Electricity
Ry Cooder was in Captain Beefheart's Magic Band for a while, and here's some rare footage of what I'm pretty sure is that line-up on the beach, playing 'Electricity'. An absolute corker. Quite how they got the electricity out there I don't know. Then again, they are a Magic Band. Excellent headgear. See also Beefheart a few years later, doing 'Click Clack' in Paris. Primeval. Awe-inspiring.
ABC - All Of My Heart
Hard to describe how incongruous this music was in Sheffield of the early eighties. But completely floored me at the time. Supreme production, great song, ridiculous video. Like an Athena poster come to life. Martin Fry's singing outclasses it effortlessly, thankfully.
Human League - Being Boiled
Also in Sheffield around the same time: Cabaret Voltaire, Heaven 17 and The Human League. Anything off Dare would've been an obvious if nostalgic choice. For that matter Heaven 17's 'Come Live With Me' is a contender too. Another great pop song and appalling video combo. But here's an earlier - 1978 - and hugely influential classic from The League. Utterly raw, gauche and , but not much electronic music since hasn't been touched by this in some way.
Sufjan Stevens - Chicago
There are billions of clips of Sufjan live on YouTube, mostly poor quality recordings. As is this. But this song is so good it would sound just fine played on a comb. This is the not the full-on resplendent marching band version from 'Illinois', but one of the more delicate versions, as heard on The Avalanche. Pretty. See also 'John Wayne Gacy Jr'.
Cat Power - Maybe Not
Prize for the harshest contrast between introduction and performance goes to this haunting Cat Power song on David Letterman in 2004.
Bud Powell - Get Happy
At the Blue Note in Paris, December 1959. Kenny Clarke on drums and Pierre Michelot on bass. Love the flyer at the start: 'Jazz Moderne Dancing'. If you've ever read the shattering chapter on Bud Powell in Geoff Dyer's But Beautiful , it's great to see him at the height of his powers.
Susumu Yokota - Kaiten Mokuba
An animation for 'Kaiten Mokuba' by Thomas Hicks. Never seen this before; strangely affecting.
Tom Waits - 16 Shells From A Thirty-Ought Six
Perhaps my favourite clip. Waits is simply majestic in this. Possessed in the same way that Howlin Wolf was in the earlier clip. From Big Time, which is difficult to get hold of at the moment. Love the guitar solo in this, which is either Robert Quine or Marc Ribot? But Waits' sheer presence is thing. That, and him addressing a load of old pipes with a large hammer.
Marc Ribot y los Cubanos Postizos - Aurora y Pekin
My favourite guitarist, with his faux Cuban band. One of the best gigs I've been to ever was by this lot, so how great to be able to relive that via YouTube.
Lounge Lizards - Voice Of Chunk
Ribot again. Earlier, in the Lounge Lizards. On Night Music in 1988. The mannered cool John Lurie matched only by the ferocity of Ribot's guitar playing. Now this is also a good sound.
Naked City - The Mystery Song
While we're in this mode, John Zorn's Naked City. Mid-80s? Great playing from Bill Frisell in this. Wish he was still playing like that. Check out Zorn's mullet.
Keith Jarrett - solo improvisation
Amazing footage of Jarrett at peak of his powers for solo improvisation. Some debate over whether this is from Tokyo in 1984, or Bremen, earlier. Looks like Tokyo, although the same theme can be heard on his Solo Concerts boxset from the mid-70s. (Even earlier footage of him at Umbria jazz festival in the mid-70s.. Wondrous. Or even earlier with a very electric Miles Davis group in 1971.)
Harry Nilsson - Walk Right Back / Down
Ah Harry. Tugs on the old heartstrings, this. I remember seeing this on TV as a kid and being profoudly drawn-in by the multi-tracked Nilsson characters. Lovely. See also 'Good Old Desk' on 'Playboy After Dark'. Hef: "Seeing as we're in the study, why not do that song about the desk?" (chomps on pipe) etc. But this is just great. His singing is flawless. Particularly on the startlingly beautiful version of 'Life Line' from 'The Point'. And wonderfully underplayed 'indifferent audience' trick.
Fleetwood Mac - Rattlesnake Shake
Also from 'Playboy After Dark' - what a show! - the original Fleetwood Mac with the great Peter Green. Sadly fades out, just as the monstrous groove gets going. Thankfully, we don't miss Hef's introduction featuring his thoughts on Buckminster Fuller theories as applied to inter-urban architecture and high-density population areas in the North-East. For real.
John Zorn's Masada - Tekufah
Best live band around at the moment? Plenty o' Zorn clips on YouTube too. In this respect, it knocks the socks off any previous form of music TV.
Roxy Music - Remake-Remodel
This version at the Royal College of Art in 1972 may be more famous - and glam - but this slightly later German TV production is possibly even better. Check peacock intellectual Brian Eno plugging electricity into things. He never fails to make me smile with his contribution to the instrumental breaks at the end. Ferry is so good in this, utterly owning the stage despite the company he's keeping. As I noted on my mate Pete's blog: "Eno is majestic and the vampyric Ferry utterly mesmeric, but the whole band come on like a bunch of dysfunctional and somewhat extravagently pointless superheroes." Someone else there described them as "Pere Ubu lead by Noel Coward's evil younger brother" which is even better. See also this anthemic version of 'Ladytron' from Old Grey Whistle Test. What's up with Ferry's hair? Eno's on a VCS3. With leather gloves and a leopardskin leotard. Manzanera's hilarious. I think my favourite track from this era is actually 'In Every Dreamhome A Heartache' but this one'll do for now.
Alan Partridge's air-bass to Music For Chameleons
Need I introduce this? You can compare with the Numan original - if you can use the word 'original' next to Gary Numan at all? - but I think Alan makes a better Pino Palladino.
Ambitious Lovers - Locus Coruleus
Arto Lindsay's great early-80s band. Synth-dance rhythms, avant-garde guitar and yelping, plus a video which still manages to look good. Love Arto's solo in this. And the blurry footage of NYC. (See also their performance on 'Night Music': 'Copy Me' and 'Admit It'. Everything pop music should be. Should've been bigger than Talking Heads. See even earlier Arto in a basement with DNA.)
Jeru Da Damaja - Ya Playing Yourself
Great bassline. Great delivery. Great faux kung fu.
Thelonious Monk - Rhythm-A-Ning
From 1961. A long-lost Dutch TV clip. Again, this is why YouTube is so amazing. Monk here without hat or sunglasses. And sounding great. Charlie Rouse sounds pretty good on this too.
Glenn Gould - Bach's Italian Concerto
Fascinating footage of Glenn Gould at work. And a strong note to end on I think.